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Blessing Andrew providing animal health services to livestock

Case Study: Gender

Bridging the Gender Gap in Animal Health Services

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Through FAO-supported training, Blessing Andrew, the sole practising woman veterinary paraprofessional in Sanga in Nigeria’s southern Kaduna State, realised that she could be a vital resource to the many women farmers who need access to animal health care.

With a client base of around 500 farmers, Blessing Andrew is an active veterinary animal health worker in her community. In fact, she is the sole practising woman veterinary paraprofessional (VPP) in Sanga, in Nigeria’s southern Kaduna State.  

In general, the animal health profession remains heavily male-dominated across most of Sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, where women comprise an estimated 20-30 per cent of the national animal health workforce.

Despite being a qualified paraprofessional with a two-year diploma in this field, Blessing found farmers questioning her competence and abilities, particularly in handling large ruminants. She was also often paid less for providing the same services as her male counterparts, with Blessing at times operating at a loss.  

Given these disparities, Blessing struggled to motivate herself to continue down this career path, although the demand for her services was high. A tailored training for VPPs, provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in collaboration with Ahmadu Bello University’s College of Agriculture and Animal Science, renewed her drive to stay in this field.

“Before the VPP training, I was running my practice with no motivation due to the little profit I made and sometimes I thought of quitting. After participating in the VPP training, I dusted off the equipment I had abandoned and began to take my practice seriously. I’m glad it paid off,” Blessing describes.

FAO’s gender-responsive approach emphasises reaching women by offering training to all those who manage livestock, understanding the division of tasks and decision-making within households and employing communication and techniques that are gender-sensitive.

Social norms limit women’s access to animal health services

In Blessing’s community, social norms have an impact on women’s ability to access care. Women’s interactions with unrelated men are often restricted, exacerbating their already limited access to quality preventive animal healthcare.

Women are typically responsible for the day-to-day care of animals, such as feeding, cleaning, milking or collecting eggs, strategically positioning them as early detectors of disease symptoms. Yet, the male heads of households are traditionally the ones to initiate, interact with the VPPs and pay for animal health services.   

This exclusion of women from discussions with male VPPs can also result in incomplete assessments or inaccurate diagnoses. 

The work of women as animal health professionals is crucial in bridging gender gaps in access to veterinary services in Nigeria. ©FAO/Habila Umar

This is a global reality. Despite women constituting 60 per cent of small-scale livestock keepers, FAO estimates that women receive only five per cent of global agricultural extension services. The gender gap in access to veterinary services holds women farmers back from realising their full potential of enhancing farm production and safeguarding their livestock from diseases. 

Through her training, Blessing realised that she could be a crucial resource to the many women farmers, in particular, who needed the support of animal health professionals. 

By tapping into the existing gap in the veterinary service market, Blessing has been able to leverage women clients as an opportunity to grow her business.  But she also realised that she could act as an agent of change primarily by building relationships with farming households and changing her approach.

After FAO’s training, Blessing began taking the time with male clients to explain to them the benefits of involving their wives in service delivery and investing in vaccination plans for the goat herds or chicken flocks under their wives’ care.

Over time, as farmers saw positive results from her advice, Blessing noticed a shift in farmer’s perceptions of her and has been able to gradually grow her business through client referrals.   

FAO’s gender-responsive training

Gender is often overlooked as a factor influencing the provision of veterinary services. While women VPPs can be a vital channel for reaching female smallholders, they still make up the minority in their profession and, like Blessing, face gender-specific constraints themselves in their work.   

By carefully developing gender-responsive models for training VPPs, FAO is supporting women farmers’ access to quality veterinary services, measures which are essential for boosting livestock productivity, supporting household expenses and improving family nutrition.   

Blessing focuses on building relationships with farming households and advocates for women’s involvement in animal health decisions. ©FAO/Habila Umar

After her training, Blessing now stands shoulder-to-shoulder with her male VPP counterparts in the community, a progress which has brought her a sense of pride and motivation to continue her essential work in veterinary practice. Her client base has grown, from approximately 300 to 500.

Notably, she has doubled her female farmer client base from 100 to 200. She has also doubled her monthly income allowing her to provide for her family and upkeep her house.

Through the training of VPPs in Nigeria, Uganda and South Africa, FAO is improving the quality of VPP services and outreach to women farmers. To date, FAO has trained 645 VPPs and veterinarians on gender-sensitive animal health service delivery.

This piece was initially published on FAO and has been revised to suit Farming First’s editorial guidelines.

Cover image: ©FAO/Habila Umar

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